Cinebites: #5

Welcome to my mini movie review series. I watch a lot of movies and I thought it’d be fun to share a few thoughts on some of the things I’ve watched.

These are all SPOILER FREE reviews so you can enjoy these films at your leisure.

Captain Marvel (2019)

It’s probably worth it to note that I really like the character of Carol Danvers / Captain Marvel in the comics and I’m also a big fan of Brie Larson but aside from that I just really enjoyed this movie. It’s probably not going to be any big revelation for most people but I thought it was just a series of really good dominos all falling into each other. I have a lot of minor issues with the film (I don’t really need a big CGI battle in the third act of every Marvel movie but this is the formula we have to go with) and some of the editing is a little odd but it’s really solid with some spot on themes and great characters.

Final Verdict: This is a fun and fantastic adventure with a few helpings extra of social and personal issues and its worth a watch if you skipped it on your path to Endgame. As someone who struggled to even get through Aquaman and didn’t really find a lot to feel about Shazam! it’s good to know that Marvel can still deliver a solid hit that gets me in my feelings. Also I had no idea I needed more buddy cop movies in my life but maybe I need more buddy cop movies in life? Four Goose’s outta four.

Vox Lux (2018)

This movie is shocking, boring, intense, wild, and strange. I’m not sure that I enjoyed the overall movie at the end but there’s certainly enough stand out moments that made the journey worth it. I think part of the problem is that it’s too sensational (ha) for its own good and it bites off more than it wants to deal with. The movie spends an immense amount of time focusing on the trajectory of Portman’s character but after watching intense pieces like Black Swan or Whiplash, Vox Lux pales in comparison, never really letting us in to the heart of those victories and losses and shying away from the hard work of vulnerable honesty save for one or two moments which were my favorite parts of the film.

I really loved the setting of this movie, in particular the beach side locations and the shopping malls she visited which all reminded me of my childhood in New York. The film has an ultimately interesting point but its only the one point and worse yet, the pacing in getting there is terrible and the momentum of a victory lap ending is killed by the last scene which drones on for too long. I felt as detached from this story as everyone else in it by the end and maybe that was the point, but it doesn’t make it an easy recommendation.

Final Verdict: I think this film meant to shock and awe audiences but its slow burn speed, undeveloped characters and plot, strange script, and occasionally veers into nonsense and tangents take away a lot of the magic. I think I could edit this down into a much more interesting film but I don’t know if that would fix some of the underlying issues I have with it. Just watch Black Swan.

Kill Your Darlings (2013)

I thought I had this movie figured out right off the bat but actually it took an entire left turn and managed to knock me off my feet with surprise. Not by some out of left field twist but because I was so bogged down by the idea of what the narrative would be that I didn’t realize what it was. There was a lot to love in this piece, not least of all some of the wildly fun editing, coy dialogue, and unhinged performances. While the movie centers itself on fairly known figures it never leans into their importance to the future as the reason you should care about them or their story, instead it lets them inhabit the past and become a meaningful in their own way there. It’s so rare that semi-biographical movies don’t just tally up to more than a list of accomplishments or worse, are just ping-ponging between time periods making life seem like life has a cohesive theme or is some moralizing story or that the events were inevitable. Kill Your Darlings avoids that entirely by staying squarely centered on telling a single story in a single era which you will have to draw your own conclusions about what it might have meant in the careers and lives of the characters because the movie is only interested in this story, not the big picture.

Final Verdict: I surprisingly liked this despite its handful of flaws. There is a subversion to the theme about halfway into the movie that is so quick and brutal it made me smile and from there I found myself moved from simply experiencing the movie to truly enjoying it. It’s hard to tell if someone else will like this film but it stands in such sharp contrast to the typical artist biography movie that I felt it was well worth my time. If you liked this try Capote which is a similarly tightly restrained story about a famous writer.

Frank (2014)

I went into this cynical as all hell and I came out completely changed. A lot of people will find this movie nonsensical or grasping too hard at trying to be wacky and zany but this film really hit on something that connected with me. Some of the movies absolute charm just comes from an intensely realistic dialogue often brimming with dry wit. This movie tackles subjects with gusto, diving face first into them without holding back. In someone else’s hands this movie could have easily slipped into some sort of bizzare, sappy, trite dribble but there is a restraint on the part of the director and the actors to bring real emotions out of strange situations. The movie offers us realism despite its surreal premise, despite its over the top personalities, despite the strange and awkward world that is built and that reality is a lifeline between the characters, and between the audience and screen.

Final Verdict: I’ve seen this movie compared to Inside Llewyn Davis and I think that’s apt to a large degree but Frank is a much more connected movie. In some ways, they are the polar opposite of movies but I can pretty easily recommend this movie to just about anyone who has struggled with trying to make art or make connections with people. There is something cheery and charming about this film despite that it tackles some heavier subjects. If you like quirky off-beat films like Little Miss Sunshine, Ghost World, (500) Days of Summer, or Rushmore you will likely enjoy Frank a great deal. I’m not saying it’s like any of those films, it’s just squarely outside of the mainstream stories in a similar way. If you’re looking for a follow up film Almost Famous is probably your next stop if you missed that one.

Wreck It Ralph 2: Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018)

I’m of two minds with this film. On the one hand, the fact that I didn’t like this anywhere near as much as I liked the original Wreck It Ralph means that it’s basically a failed film. On the other hand this is a cute story with a few good moments, a nice character arc for a main character, and I got a few giggles out along the way. My major problem with Wreck It Ralph 2 was that it has absolutely nothing to do with the first movie but also that this movie is a mess. The movie moves in and out of stories and settings with very little reason and with almost no real coherence. It feels like they took a bucket of great ideas and threw it at the wall and then plotted their movie around what stuck. This makes for a series of interesting scenes and vignettes but doesn’t really add up to a cohesive whole.

Final Verdict: If you absolutely gotta have more Ralph, you could really do a lot worse than this movie. If I’m being absolutely honest with myself, this doesn’t really do much for any of the characters or the overall mythos of the Wreck It Ralph world. In fact, this is basically a reverse of the first movie making it feel like a step back for several characters. I think this is fine for kids and it’s a very watchable and entertaining movie but in terms of what it has to offer adults the answer is not too much. Certainly a perfect popcorn movie for a rainy day and a nice change from the 700th time you have to hear the songs from Moana but it’s hard to imagine this one really getting a lot of re-play value in a world with the original Wreck It Ralph.

Death Becomes Her (1992)

This is a kind of weird movie because it feels like there’s so many things it could have been getting at. This movie is a very shaky, 80’s style comedy that isn’t particularly funny but is just absurd enough that it’ll hold your attention through the whole movie. Zemeckis’ filming style really suits the movie and you get the cartoonish, over the top feeling from many of the scenes which pushes a hum drum script to its highest heights but as a satire this movie completely falls on it face. While a lesser movie would have played and shot many of these scenes much worse, a better movie would have had something to say beyond a handful of pithy one liners. This movie could have been about aging or competition between women, or adultery, or any of the dozens of themes if flies past without a care but this movie is as empty as the hearts of its protagonists making it the worst type of film: forgettable.

Final Verdict: Despite great performances from its three leads, this is easily one of the most middling comedies I’ve seen in a while. I probably wouldn’t be mad if I’d paid for it in the theater but it’s nothing to return to. If you’re looking for a 90’s comedy about women try First Wives Club instead. If you need a little death in your comedy give Adams Family Values a watch, and just for good measure one of my favorite 90’s comedy The Birdcage.

Looper (2012)

Yes. It took me seven years to watch Looper. You can stop judging me now. When Looper came out it was just a little bit after Inception and unfortunately the same people who loved that movie suggested that I would enjoy Looper, which turned me off of the movie since I found Inception to be a little lacking for my taste. While Looper is far from a perfect movie it has a lot of the things that I like in my sci fi action movies. Looper occasionally leans a little too hard into the action spectrum for my taste but all together the product was tense, well shot, extremely well acted, and had an overall satisfying story. Better than its britches, Looper is probably best seen only once as I feel like it might not be as interesting a second time around but I have to say this movie has some of the best pacing of an action movie in a long time as it uses really clever non-action stretches to develop real human interaction between characters which gives all those bombastic action sequences a reason to exist. Kind of a reverse Mission Impossible if you will.

Final Verdict: Okay, if you missed this one (like me) go ahead and plunk down two hours on your couch at your nearest convenience. There are certainly pieces of this movie that don’t work for me but I can easily brush them over and focus on all the nice parts I liked. The theming and the level of introspection in this film are top notch and because Rian Johnson both wrote AND directed this piece (and the filming is so good at times it excites me) I can see why he was picked to work on Star Wars after this and while not everyone agrees on the nature of his work on that franchise, I certainly liked it and I’m looking forward to his newest film, Knives Out as well now.

He Died with a Felafel in his Hand (2001)

I was told to watch this film way back in the dark ages of 2010. I think I would have enjoyed it more than. There’s a real amateur feeling about this film and it exists as a set of vignettes that largely don’t tie together except that they happen to be about one mans life. The movie is an adaption of a book and a comic, where it is probably better served in either of those mediums. The movie version does manage to wring some truly strange and memorable moments from the visuals. I think the lack of acting chops, the over stuffed amount of strange personalities, extreme apathetic vibe, and general listlessness of the film might have appealed to me in my early 20s but in my 30s I find it all a bit rote. Been there, done that, but somehow I managed to be less of a screw up so I find the main character frustrating instead of connecting. It’s a real mixed bag.

Final Verdict: There are two things I took away from this film that I really liked and everything else was basically meh to actively not good. Skip this piece entirely and go straight ahead to the book if you really want this particular story. This movie made me think of two better movies that aren’t quite connected but gave me the same feeling Oblivious Child and After Hours, so I think it’d be more worth your time to look into those.

Byzantium (2012)

What am I supposed to do with this movie? Why was this billed as anything like Twilight? This movie is a master class in bad editing / bad structuring of a movie. At one point the same footage is repeated twice within a few minutes for no real reason. Back story is explained out of context and out of order but not to the purpose of anything. Characters insert extra information into later scenes that may or may not have once been connected to another part of the script and the performances range from “I guess this person probably has a feeling but I don’t know what it would be” to “this is over reacting unless they cut something from this scene”. Plot points are picked up and dropped as the movie sees fit and the pacing is brutally slow until everything happens at the last 10 minutes (but they easily could have been the first 10 minutes and we would have had a different, possibly more interesting movie). Needless to say I found the experience frustrating. At times this movie wanted me to think it was artsy and meaningful but the vapid script and jarring lack of structure left me cold. It’s certainly moody and beautiful, but not much else.

Final Verdict: This was basically just a less successful version of Crimson Peak, never managing to take itself to any visual or character height. Originally this movie was a staged play which makes some of the decisions and issues that come up in the movie make more sense (there’s people in a scene having conversations that are just straight up exposition lists). At the end of the day this movie is a mess and nothing about it can save it from just kind of…existing on its own. The reveals at the end of the movie raise more questions about everything that has occurred before and during the movie but not in a good way, honestly using those reveals as the spring board for a second movie would probably make it more interesting but also they are strangely trite at the end of the day. I think it really wanted the theme to be one thing but unfortunately if you just state your theme twice in the movie, that doesn’t really work. Skip this and go directly to Interview with a Vampire if you absolutely must have a Neil Jordan vampire movie. Otherwise Let the Right One In and Only Lovers Left Alive are far superior in every way to updating the vampire mythos to a modern setting.

Carol (2015)

I absolutely adored this movie. It’s a character piece through and through and this director likes to make films set in the 50s but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Based on the fairly famous novel “The Price of Salt” this was an edge pushing story back in those days but today it reads much more mild and even regressive in a strange way. The entire charm of this movie is how it frames the characters and how intense and intimate its acting is. While this might leave some modern audiences a bit cold with its high tension and coy language I found this to actually be the biggest surprise and charm of the movie. You could have easily updated the script and played this into modern times changing some of the circumstances and most of the dialogue but it felt so grounded inside of its own time that I really enjoyed that it was set in the 50s because the story really inhabits and exists in its own time. There are some extremely interesting editing choices in here that fuel a good movie to even higher heights and I think its worth taking the time to let the piece set with you long after its over.

Final Verdict: If you missed this and you like character stories, this is absolutely worth your time. If you spend a lot of time reading modern LGBT novels you might find yourself a bit tired. This project was clearly made with passion and comes right through the film. It’s hard to say much without ruining it but this film is soft and thoughtful in a way I wish more films had the guts to be.

That’s it for this time, see you next time with ten more movies!

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